Leading up to the presidential election this past November, one of my biggest concerns was that the evangelical church in America had become committed to trading their identity in Christ for an identity in politics. Sadly, my fears are proving prescient. The evangelical church in America is being fractured. While people are dying and going to hell, Christians in America are more interested in throwing stones at each other over politics than we are in sharing the good news of the salvation found through faith in Jesus Christ. This abdication of Jesus’ ordained mission for his disciples is being publicly played out in the Southern Baptist Convention’s tug-of-war over the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and its president, Russell Moore.
As head of the ERLC, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Russell Moore is a lightening rod for controversy. Anytime religion is mixed with politics, anger is bound to quickly follow. Fed by that anger, a growing chorus of voices is calling for Moore to resign.
Here are a few facts about the positions that the ERLC advocates for:
- The organization is strongly pro-life and pours many resources into the fight to keep babies from being murdered.
- The ERLC is vocally opposed to gay marriage as well as any sexual expressions that violate God’s clear parameters for sexual expression.
- The ERLC is a strong advocate for religious freedom in order to ensure the unfettered preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
All of the above positions (and many others that I didn’t have room for) reflect a biblically-grounded ideology that puts the ERLC squarely at odds with progressivism. It would shock no one if the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) decided to label the ERLC as a hate group. Except, the SPLC has little need to attack the ERLC because professing Christians are unwittingly doing the bidding of leftists.
Much of the vitriol heaped on ERLC and Russell Moore’s head is over immigration. Opponents of the ERLC claim that Moore is an open-borders zealot. Arguing that Moore is on the dole of George Soros and is working alongside Ken Barbic to undermine the U.S. economy for the sake of cheap labor (disclosure: my wife is friends with Ken Barbic, although I’ve only ever met him once or twice). In short, the anti-Russell Moore/ERLC crowd believes that Moore is determined to undermine America’s sovereignty out of a love for mammon.
In February, Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, resorted to holding the SBC economically hostage by threatening to withhold over one million dollars from the SBC’s Cooperative Program, the funding arm for the Convention’s mission work. The large and influential church was quickly joined by a growing chorus of SBC pastors threatening to withhold funds if Russell Moore retains his position at the ERLC.
Along with the policy differences regarding immigration, Moore’s vocal NeverTrump position throughout the election prompted large swaths of the SBC to take up rhetorical and economic arms against him. The thing is, the anger and ad hominem attacks directed at Moore over immigration policy aren’t close to being equal to his actual policy stance.
In an article opposing President Trump’s border policy, Moore wrote, “The United States government should fight, and fight hard, against radical Islamic jihadism. The government should close the borders to anyone suspected of even a passing involvement with any radical cell or terrorist network. But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, for holding their religious convictions.”
For the record, I don’t agree with Russell Moore on everything in regards to immigration, but his above statement is measured, conservative, and expresses a deep concern for religious liberty, which, for the record, cannot be a one-way street. He also explicitly calls for the U.S. borders to be closed to anyone associated with radical Islamic jihadism. For this, oddly enough, he’s castigated as anti-Christian and a puppet of Soros.
While there is room to graciously disagree with Russell Moore and the ERLC over immigration (as I do at points), the policies articulated by the organization do not contradict the gospel. Contradicting political theory is not the same thing as contradicting the gospel. On the flip-side, using strong-arm tactics to force religious organizations to adhere to a specific political ideology is counterproductive to the spread of the gospel.
American evangelicals have willfully created a stumbling block to the spread of the gospel. Many unbelievers in this country equate Christianity with the Republican Party. They have come to the conclusion that being a follower of Jesus requires strict adherence to conservative politics. And they’ve come to that mistaken conclusion, frankly, because of things like the politically-charged furor in the SBC over Russell Moore and the ERLC.
Jesus didn’t call for us to agree with each other on every point of politics, but he did command us to show love for our fellow believers in Christ. It’s hard to see how publicly squabbling over policy differences obeys Jesus’ command. Worse, the evangelical infighting undermines the ability of Christians to share the gospel with the lost from cultures different than ours. Being more concerned about specific political theories at the expense of people who are lost in their sins and dying and going to hell is about as un-Christian an ideology as can be found. For all his flaws, Russell Moore is deeply concerned about the salvation of souls. Even in their differences, Christians of all political stripes should praise God for that and focus on it.